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March/April 2004

Inside This Issue:


2002 Ag Census Offers Latest Look at Pennsylvania Farming
While Pennsylvania continues to lose farms and farmland, the number of farms and farmland acres lost from 1997 to 2002 slowed dramatically from the previous decade.

That’s right. The number of farms and farmland acres lost in Pennsylvania from 1997 to 2002 was not as severe as the loss from 1987 to 1992*, according to the latest Census of Agriculture. In February 2004, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released preliminary data from the 2002 Census of Agriculture. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania compared the new data with data from the previous census in 1997 to show the evolving story of agriculture in the Commonwealth.

According to the USDA data, in 2002, there were 58,209 farms in Pennsylvania compared to 60,222 farms in 1997. This represents a 3 percent decrease over those five years. That’s a marked difference, however, from the 13 percent loss of farms a decade earlier from 1987 to 1992.

Also in 2002, farmland acres totaled 7.7 million, or 27 percent of all the land in Pennsylvania. In 1997, farmland acres totaled 7.8 million, indicating a decrease of 1 percent in five years. Ten years earlier, farmland acres decreased 9 percent over the five-year period from 1987 to 1992.

While the final data from the Census of Agriculture, including important county level figures, are to be released this summer, these preliminary numbers provide a good look at the current state of agriculture in Pennsylvania as a whole.

To round out the picture, the Center also looked at data on farm receipts and expenditures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and information on farmland preservation.

Farms and farmland
The Census of Agriculture defines a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year. The changes in the number of farms and farm acres combined from 1997 to 2002 demonstrate a change in the average size of farms. Pennsylvania farms have increased in size from an average of 130 to 133 acres from 1997 to 2002. Thirty-eight percent of farms are very small, or less than 50 acres, while 4 percent have at least 500 acres.

Farm size can also be examined by sales. Sixty-one percent of farms in the Commonwealth each sold less than $10,000 of agricultural products in 2002, while 23 percent sold $50,000 or more. In 1997, there were fewer small sale farms: 55 percent sold less than $10,000 and 25 percent sold $50,000 or more of agricultural products.

Pennsylvania farms are under a variety of ownership types. The majority, 91 percent, are family or individual sole proprietorships. Partnerships are the second most common type with 6 percent. The remaining 3 percent of farms are under other types of ownership such as corporations (family held or otherwise), cooperatives, institutions, and estates or trusts. In 1997, slightly fewer farms in the Commonwealth, 90 percent, were sole proprietorships and 7 percent were partnerships.

Farmland preservation
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements, or development rights, from owners of quality farmland. Many farmers use the proceeds from easement sales to reduce debt loads, expand operations, and pass on farms to the next generation. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Farmland Preservation statistics show that the program has helped to preserve more than 270,500 acres as of December 2003. These acres make up 2,322 farms and were purchased at an average price of about $2,000 per acre.

The average age of a farmer in the Commonwealth is 53 years, one year older than the 1997 average. Nearly one-quarter of farmers, or 22 percent, is 65 years old or older and 1 percent is under age 25. Nearly 6,000 primary operators of Pennsylvania farms are female. This accounts for 10 percent of the state’s farmers. Fewer than 600 Pennsylvania farmers, or 1 percent, are minorities, which includes non-Whites and Whites of Hispanic/Latino origin.

Most Pennsylvania farmers in 2002, 88 percent, resided on the farm they operate. And nearly three-quarters, 72 percent, have been on their present farm for at least 10 years. But many Pennsylvania farmers work off the farm to supplement their income. In fact, 2002 data show that 43 percent of farmers had a primary occupation that was not farming. This is a decrease from 1997 when 50 percent worked primarily in a non-farming occupation.

Farm income and expenditures
BEA data from 2001 show that 89 percent of Pennsylvania farm income comes from the sale of livestock and crops. The nearly $4.7 billion earned from these items reflects a 7 percent increase from the 1996 figure. The balance of farmer income comes from government payments and other miscellaneous income, which consists of imputed income, such as gross rental value of dwellings and value of home consumption, and other farm related income components, such as machine hire and custom work income, rental income, and income from forest products.

Expenses are the other side of the coin. In 2001, Commonwealth farmers spent more than $4.7 billion on such things as feed, seed, labor costs, and other expenses, which is an increase of 12 percent from 1996. The biggest delineated expense is feed at 18 percent of the total. Feed is followed by hired labor at 13 percent.

A third factor in farm earnings is the value of livestock and crop inventory change, which fell by nearly $115 million in 2001. The value of inventory change is the estimated value of the net change in the farm inventories of livestock and crops that are held for sale during a given calendar year. Combining these factors shows that Pennsylvania farms earned $411 million in 2001.

Want more info?
For more information about the state of agriculture in Pennsylvania, contact the Center for Rural Pennsylvania for the fact sheet, Trends in Rural Pennsylvania: The Dirt on Pennsylvania Agriculture, telephone (717) 787-9555 or email

*Note: USDA changed the definition of "farm" between 1992 and 1997, so a fair comparison could not be made between the five-year periods of 1992-1997 and 1997-2002.


Chairman’s Message
I am generally not one to boast, but when it comes to Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation program, I happily make an exception and proudly tell everyone who will listen about our national leadership in keeping our agricultural land in production. The General Assembly passed this vital legislation in the late 1980s and its success story is now being documented through the diminished pace at which farmland is being converted to non-agricultural uses in this new century.

We measure this success by the farm and by the acre, and as of December 2003, Pennsylvania has preserved 2,322 farms representing 270,509 acres of the Commonwealth’s best farmland in participating counties. Sadly, not every county has a program to protect its remaining farms. The fact is: Pennsylvania continues to lose farms. But, we have slowed the rate these farms are exiting. Based on the 2002 Census of Agriculture, our farm numbers decreased from 1997 to 2002 by 3 percent. With the help of our state, county and township programs to purchase conservation easements, the conversion rate has slowed from the 13 percent loss of farms that occurred between 1987 and 1992.

I know the amount of effort and work it takes to have a successful farmland preservation program, having volunteered on the Berks County board for more than 15 years. I am thrilled when I see large blocks of farmland that will be protected for future generations coming together to create a perpetual agricultural base of contiguous farms. It is also encouraging to see the value these farms command when they are sold as protected farmland, showing the worth of this program as farmers compete to purchase land where they know they will not have to face housing development challenges next door.

Preserving farmland has a positive impact on our public schools by limiting the growth of new homes and potential student enrollment within the district. Building more schools requires more taxpayer investment, and that is just one of the many challenges facing school boards and administrators. Recently, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, along with Millersville University’s Center for Opinion Research, surveyed school superintendents across the Commonwealth on a wide range of education issues, including funding, government mandates, and faculty recruitment and retention. We feature some of the results on page 4. For a copy of the complete fact sheet, contact the Center at (717) 787-9555 or email

Public education and the farm community have another important link. The Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab is a traveling trailer filled with stations that teach students important facts about our food and fiber industry. This laboratory spent a day at the Capitol in December and shared its many stories with state legislators and members of the executive branch. Kudos to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau for organizing this effective way to take agriculture’s story to schools across Pennsylvania. After spending a day in this laboratory, school children come away with a better understanding about the food they eat, the clothing they wear, and other products they use every day that wouldn’t exist without farm products. They also learn about the benefits to the environment of Pennsylvania’s farms and forests, and much more. With all of these efforts to protect farms and teach children about its importance, Pennsylvania agriculture will grow stronger in the 21st Century. Spread the word.

Representative Sheila Miller


PA Superintendents Talk Public Education
In many ways, school superintendents are much like CEOs of large corporations: responsible for the overall management of a large organization, often with a staff of 100 or more, an annual budget in the millions of dollars, and numerous facilities at various locations, and responsible for producing a quality product at the best price.

At a time when the cost and quality of education are such a large part of the public agenda, it seems fitting to know the viewpoints of our schools’ superintendents.

In 2002, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania contracted with Millersville University’s Center for Opinion Research to conduct a telephone survey of Pennsylvania’s rural and urban school superintendents.

Researchers interviewed a total of 307 superintendents in March 2002, for a response rate of 61 percent. The survey did not include any questions about the federal “No Child Left Behind Act,” since many of the law’s provisions were not implemented at the time the survey was conducted.

Profile of Pennsylvania’s superintendents
Rural and urban superintendents have very similar characteristics. The average age of both groups is about 54, and most are planning to retire at age 59. In addition, both groups of superintendents have been on the job for an average of about nine years and most have been with their current district for the last six years.

One difference between rural and urban superintendents is gender. Among urban districts, more than 20 percent of the superintendents were females. In rural districts, however, 14 percent were females.

Attention-getting issues
A majority of rural superintendents said the following issues received more of their attention than merited: legal issues and litigation (75 percent); funding and budgeting issues (66 percent); dealing with the physical plant and facilities (56 percent); and district politics (53 percent.)

The top two issues identified by rural superintendents as receiving less of their attention than merited were teaching quality and training (47 percent), and conference and professional training (44 percent.)

Rural superintendents noted that organized parent groups, such as PTAs (44 percent), and strategic planning (41 percent) received enough attention.

Top concerns of superintendents
The survey asked superintendents to identify the single most important issue facing public schools in Pennsylvania and their districts.

More than 80 percent of both rural and urban superintendents cited education funding as the number one problem facing public schools in Pennsylvania. Sixty-seven percent of respondents identified funding as the most pressing issue in their district.

Government mandates
Both rural and urban superintendents believe state mandates are burdensome in both cost and time. Nearly 79 percent of superintendents strongly agreed that there are too many state mandates and that these mandates take up too much time. More than 88 percent of rural superintendents indicated that their districts have experienced an increase in mandates without appropriate resources provided to address the mandate.

When asked what state mandate most inhibits the operation of their district, 43 percent of rural superintendents pointed to special education rules and regulations. The next most inhibiting mandates identified were certification and expected student, teacher and staff ratios (12 percent), followed by PSSA, Chapter 4, and Standards for Student Achievement (7 percent).

The most helpful mandates identified by rural superintendents were: academic curriculum standards (11 percent); certification requirements for teachers (9 percent); and attendance laws such as age requirements and compulsory attendance (6 percent). It is interesting to note that 18 percent of the superintendents said none of the state mandates were helpful.

Recruiting, retaining principals and faculty
Nearly 65 percent of the rural superintendents indicated they do not have a shortage of principals. Twenty-eight percent said they have a somewhat serious shortage and the remaining 7 percent said they have a severe shortage of principals. Forty-nine percent of respondents said the main problem with recruiting and retaining principals was low salary, especially when compared to pay scales of other districts.

When it comes to hiring faculty members, 33 percent of rural superintendents think that salaries and benefits are the main problems with recruiting new faculty. One in four (26 percent) said they had problems hiring because of a shortage of quality people in specialty fields, such as math and science, and 11 percent said that the location of the district is a problem in recruiting faculty.

Want more info?
For the complete fact sheet Pennsylvania Superintendent Perspectives on Public Education, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email


A Look at the 2003 Federal Medicare Reform Act
The newly passed federal Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act expands Medicare to cover initial preventive examinations, cardiovascular screening blood tests, diabetes screening tests, and mammography services.

The act, passed in December 2003, also enables Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in a prescription drug discount card program, except for those who receive drug coverage through Medicaid.

Following are some provisions of the act that directly address rural health care:

More information about the act’s provisions is available on the Rural Policy Research Institute’s website at and the National Rural Health Association’s website at


Did you know . . .







Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census, and * The Center for Rural Pennsylvania


It’s Time to Stand Up for Rural America
Help celebrate the third national Stand Up for Rural America Day on May 18, 2004. Stand Up for Rural America will be hosting a daylong Policy and Investment Forum in Washington, D.C., followed by a reception celebrating the work of rural community developers. For more information, visit the Stand Up for Rural America website at


Mobile Science Lab Brings Agriculture to a School Near You
If the kids in your schools think butter comes from the supermarket, there’s a classroom on wheels that can churn their lack of education into ag appreciation.

The Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab, administered by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation, uses hands-on experiments to investigate almost everything agriculture, including Pennsylvania’s primary commodities, agriculture and the environment, biotechnology, food and fiber, and food safety.

At the lab, students work in groups to form a hypothesis, collect data and draw conclusions. Students are guided by a traveling instructor, their teacher, and a local volunteer.

So far, the pilot program has served five schools in south central Pennsylvania and will visit at least nine more schools statewide this spring.

For more information about the lab, call Tonya Myers at (717) 761-2740 or visit the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation website at


Pennsylvania Fast Fact: Monthly Unemployment in Pennsylvania’s Rural and Urban Counties January 2001 to December 2003


Just the Facts: The Sounds of Spring
Nibble, nibble, peep, peep, baahhh. These are just some of the sounds of spring on the rural farms that witness the birth of the furry and the fuzzy.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 1997 Census of Agriculture*, the most recent available, rural Pennsylvania is a great place to find furry creatures such as rabbits, chicks and lambs.

First, let’s talk about rabbits. In rural Pennsylvania, more than 360 farms raised rabbits, accounting for 5 percent of such farms nationwide. These farms had an average of 23 bunnies each at Census time for a total rural inventory of about 8,350. If you have hopes of owning a rabbit this spring, you’ll be happy to know that about 150 farms in the state’s rural counties sell their rabbits. Sales numbers and dollar amounts are not available at the rural/urban level, but statewide, 59,500 cottontails were sold for $364,000.

Next, let’s take a peek at the peeps. More than 100 rural farms have chicks and 72 sell them. While numbers of chicks are not available for rural areas, the statewide inventory was 3.25 million. Throughout the year, 11.4 million chicks were sold in the Commonwealth.

Lastly, let’s look at lambs. Nearly 1,500 farms in rural Pennsylvania are home to close to 60,000 sheep and lambs for an average of about 40 per farm. Most (85 percent) of these farms sell their sheep and lambs. There are no figures on just lambs, but by subtracting the ewes that are at least one year old from the total count of sheep and lambs, we estimated that 200 rural farms raise more than 20,000 lambs.
* Note: County level data from the 2002 Census of Agriculture were not available as of March 2004.